Oil prices mixed ahead of US jobs release
Oil prices were mixed in Asian trade Friday as investors await the release of US jobs data, while severe winter weather in the country lifted demand for heating fuel and lent support to prices.
New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for March delivery, eased 12 cents to $97.72 in late-morning trade while Brent North Sea crude for March rose 18 cents to $107.37.
WTI at one point Thursday hit a peak of $98.83, its highest level this year, on the buoyant mood ahead of Friday's jobs figures.
Kenny Kan, market analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore, said prices remain supported by hopes the non-farm payrolls report will signal "an improvement of the economic outlook".
Investors were also given a lift by data Thursday showing new claims for US unemployment insurance benefits, which indicate the pace of layoffs across the economy, fell last week.
Market watchers expect Friday's data to show a rebound from December's surprisingly poor jobs growth, predicting that 175,000 net new posts were generated in January, with the unemployment rate holding at 6.7 percent.
Crude prices have been bolstered in recent weeks by strong demand for heating oil in the United States as the country is battered by unusually frigid winter weather, analysts said.
US stockpiles of distillates, which include diesel and heating oil, declined for the fourth straight week in the week to January 31, data showed Wednesday .
Distillates fell 2.4 million barrels, more than the 2.0 million barrels estimated.
Treacherous snow and freezing rain in northeastern US has disrupted thousands of flights and caused traffic chaos for millions this week.
More than 600,000 people were without power Wednesday as high winds and ice knocked down trees and electrical lines.